Politicians overrule Health Council Chief Medical Officer

The CDC recently relaxed masking recommendations and replaced them with “community-level” measures. As some may have seen, I was furious and wrote an article for Forbes about the CDC throwing vulnerable people under the bus. My feelings haven’t changed.

But here I want to mention how short-sighted it was assuming that local politicians would in fact follow the CDC metric.

Our local politicians are so loving the GOP and “freedom” that they are hurting local counties in their fight for attention. The Western Maryland delegation is perhaps best known for its ill-conceived publicity stunt last fall. Then they offered to split from Maryland and join West Virginia. What does it do besides making it a laughing stock? Western Maryland receives more funding and support from downstate, which is a Democrat, than we contribute in taxes. Do you think this will continue after they have so blatantly disseminated the MD Legislature?

In Maryland, the local county health officer is nominated by the county and appointed by the secretary of the Maryland Department of Health. They serve at the pleasure of the county. In Allegany County, where I live, the board of health consists of the county commissioners and the health officer. Other counties, such as Howard, have larger councils, although they are appointed by the county council. Howard County has 11 members; we have four — the three commissioners and a health worker.

When the CDC released its new guidelines, Allegany County was colored red — high risk and high rates of COVID transmission. We, and neighboring Garrett County to the west, have historically had the highest rate of COVID infections in the state. We have a county hospital, now run by UPMC. Our death rate was about 1 in 300, our county’s COVID response was even worse than Mississippi’s in 2020.

Even before the Board of Health met to discuss masks and quarantines, Commissioner Jake Shade announced on his Facebook page that “Allegany County would be the first county in the state of Maryland to end heavy quarantine requirements for students”. He apparently informed Governor Larry Hogan of this ambition. Too bad the commissioners didn’t really bother to discuss this with the county health officer before making their decision. Jenelle Mayer, MPH, opposed the measure. Likewise, soon after, the Board of Education voted to make masking optional, which it said was premature given our county’s COVID numbers.

Both decisions were purely political. The only reason we had good luck with masking in Allegany County, despite extraordinarily high COVID rates, was because of state mandates for masking in public places, guided by the CDC . The local authorities here have not implemented any protection on their own.

One of the problems with the CDC’s new plan is that it emphasizes hospitalizations and local capacity. But our hospital has consistently refused to share information regarding its ability to handle additional patients. They also haven’t done enough to educate locals about dealing with COVID, although our vaccination rate only recently topped 50%.

Community members offer vaccination clinics focused on low-income areas as health department clinics are difficult to access with negligible public transport here. The Women’s Action Coalition is also offering a Q&A series in the journal to help educate about masks, vaccines and now available treatments. Given that we only have one primary care provider for every 1,900 people (compared to 1 in 713 in Maryland), plus transportation challenges, you can’t rely on patients to get information from their doctor.

While there are many benefits to living in a scenic rural community, it saddens and angers me to see politicians seemingly uninterested in caring for their constituents and making decisions that should be left to professionals. of health. I also naively hoped that they and the local citizens would be more willing to take care of their vulnerable neighbors. There are churches all over Cumberland – local tradition said we had the highest rate of churches per capita in the country. It’s easy to believe when driving around town. Yet even some of them pushed to abandon masking early on. Caring for others seems to have been missed by many.

Join Medscape’s new blogging initiative! We’re looking for doctors, nurses, physician assistants, specialists, and other healthcare professionals who want to share their expertise in one to two paid blog posts per month. Please email [email protected] for more information.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube

About Dr. Judy Stone

Judy Stone, MD, is an infectious disease specialist and author of
Resilience: A family’s story of hope and victory over evil and
Conducting clinical research: a practical guide.

She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and now works part-time. She particularly enjoys writing about ethical issues and advocating for social justice. Follow her at drjudystone.com or on Twitter
@drjudystone.